I’m currently presenting a webcast version of this same material for YouTube. In the meanwhile, here’s the print version.
Why study the doctrine of the Trinity ? Real simple – we begin with the doctrine of God because the scriptures begin with the doctrine of the God – “In the beginning God….”, so if we are to understand creation, salvation, humanity and such correctly, we too need to start with the doctrine of God. Get God wrong, get salvation wrong.
Secondly, what should we study about the God of the scriptures ? Everything. In knowing Him, more of His character is revealed to us in scripture so that we can more clearly see it worked out in our daily lives. Some people wonder, for example, why hardships come upon them from time to time. They come to a church and they get a nice, grandfatherly-type God who just waits in heaven to give gifts and never brings tough times to His people. I simply say here that if these people had spent time reading the book of Ruth, reading Joseph’s own testimony about Who brought him to Egypt, reading Job’s testimony of ‘though He slay me, yet will I serve Him’, reading the words of Psalm 119:67 and 75, they would know that the very testing they go through is brought on them for a season by the God of the Universe. And the less we know of this God and hold to superstitions of our minds, the more likely it is that we do not know the God of the Universe in the first place.
Thirdly, how often should we specifically study the doctrine of God ? There is no specific amount of time. It should be a permeating influence weaved into the general daily study of our scriptures and preached on Sunday mornings. We should, in the process of reading about the good works of the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 3, come to see the beauty of the Triune God working in harmony for the sanctification of the believer in verses 11-14.
All that said, prior to digging into the doctrine of the Trinity, we must get a few things out of the way as preliminaries. Let’s hit those first.
First and foremost is the issue of reverence. Weâ€™re not dealing with abstract concepts that have no bearing on the Christian life, salvation or that are simply â€˜secondary issuesâ€™ that we can disagree on. We are talking about the Creator of the Universe. The universe is 15 billion light years across in either direction from the earth – and the scriptures say that God holds it in the palm of His hand.
Any discussion of His Nature and Being should be approached with extreme caution, lest we, in our misinformation, mislead others into believing in a â€˜godâ€™ that does not exist.
The next major issue is the approach to scripture. Too often, people approach scripture as if it were simply a bunch of verses….. pick one here, pick one there, prove what you want, no one cares. Is this “cutting straight (rightly dividing) the Word of Truth ?” (2 Tim. 2:15) No, it’s not.
There are some doctrines which are taught in specific passages of scripture. For example, the doctrine of imputation â€“ that Christâ€™s perfect righteousness is counted on behalf of the believer â€“ is very explicit in Romans 4, 5 and Philippians 3:8-10. People don’t get to heaven on being ‘good people’ because according to scripture, all of our righteousness is like used…uhhhh….sanitary napkins at that time of the month (Isaiah 64:6).
Other doctrines are drawn out of multiple passages of scripture and seen as a general principle, or overall consistent teaching in scripture. One example of this is the concept of church membership and submission to church authority. There is no one passage that says you must be a â€˜memberâ€™ of a church, but there are passages that state that believers regularly gathered together (weekly and in some cases daily) in local bodies (such as the church at Rome, the church at Corinth, etcâ€¦), partook of the sacraments, were taught by elders, fellowshipped, supported one another (Acts 2:42-47), pushed oneanother on to holiness (Hebrews 10) and submitted to the authority of the elders at a local body of believers (Hebrews 13) and there are elders appointed for specific flocks with the job of ‘shepherding’ them (Acts 20:23-32). There are verses which assume membership at a local assembly to be the norm (1 Cor. 16:1-4). Membership is the basis for church discipline (1 Cor. 5:1-5) since you canâ€™t â€˜kick outâ€™ someone from among you who isnâ€™t a member where you are.
The doctrine of the Trinity is like this. It is not taught specifically in one or two passages of scripture, but over the entire 66 books of the Bible. It not gathered from â€˜proof textsâ€™, but from the consistent teaching of scripture. It takes time and it is a mystery, so if it feels like a difficult concept to followâ€¦. it is! If it feels like it takes time to study â€“ it does! And if you feel like youâ€™re only scratching the surface â€“ you are!
Understand that God is eternal – this means He has no beginning or ending. You and I are finite beings – we cannot and will not fully comprehend all that there is to this great and awesome God who created us. But we can apprehend those things that He has given to us in the scriptures and our task is, with His assistance, to understand, preach and proclaim these things whether we fully understand them or not.
Accuracy Matters. If you had a headache and I told you to go in the bathroom and take the white pills in the cabinet, there are a few questions you should be asking me.
How many pills ? You could overdose.
Which bottle ? There are several bottles with white pills.
With or without food/water ? Some medications upset the stomach when taken alone.
Or if I gave you a white power-like substance and told you that tastes sweet and told you to sprinkle it on your funnel cake to make it taste goodâ€¦.am I referring you to cyanide or sugar ?
Likewise, in the early church, the doctrine of the Trinity was resolved over a single letter â€“ the letter â€˜iâ€™ (iota). The difference in words was that one word (homoousios) would have said that Christ was of the same substance as the Father, and the other word (homoiousios) would have said that Christ was of similar substance as the Father. One would’ve made God the Son a ‘creation’ – God ‘in a sense’, but not the eternal God of the universe. The other is Biblical truth.
Lest you consider this a light issue, ponder 2 John 7-11. Gnostics ran amuck in the early church, teaching that Christ was not “really” human, but only appeared to be human (as they believed all matter was inherently evil). John is very forceful in his wording – those who do not bring the right doctrine of Christ do not have the Father or the Son. Do not even wish them ‘Godspeed’. Anyone who does so shares in their wicked work.
Strong language. But he realized a very discernable truth – any untruth about the nature of Christ necessarily impacts believing something untrue about the nature of God. And this, friends, equates to damnation.
The last tidbit to cover in our introduction here is that we need to avoid bad illustrations. God is unique. No one illustration will and can accurately describe the nature of the Creator. He is outside of His creation in that He exists separately from it. As such, nothing in Creation accurately describes Him (Isaiah 46:9). Egg, Water, Sunlight, Space and other illustrations may seem helpful, but can in fact cause one to have a false concept of God.
A famous one, sometimes used by modalists, is the illustration of Father/Husband/Son as though the distinction were a matter of roles. It scares me to hear folk who will affirm Trinitarianism using this very illustration at times. Such sloppiness needs to be stopped immediately. We need to be precise in our terms, we need to be Biblical in our illustrations and reverent in our approach. And most importantly, we need to be willing to put in the time (and it does take time) to become familiar enough with the Biblical text that we can look at it and simply see the doctrine jump out of the pages at us.
And with that, we prepare for part 2.